Sometimes reading a novel by and about young people – like the dark and twisted Lolito by Ben Brooks – makes me feel old. Rooney’s super cool, Award Winning Normal People makes me feel very old indeed. Crusty. Wrinkled. And very, very, very Vanilla.
The Guardian described this as Austen with hangovers (Connell is reading Emma at one point) in places it felt more/most like When Harry Met Sally with bondage or Twin Peaks in Sligo.
At first I loved this book; fell in love with Marianne and Connell and their sexy on/off relationship. Rooney is so refreshing writing about sex, in two sentences she moves from routine to rude (really rude!) and back again. No dwelling, just letting you know in no uncertain terms that M & C are really Gettin it On (take note Franzen, take note all you Bloke Authors lingering on the sexual act with your long over descriptive passages, when the Reader thinks ‘hey, this isn’t about the character this is about you! Just bang one out already and get on with it!)
Rooney has created a deceptively simple Girl Meets Boy novel that had me screaming ‘just tell her you love her/him’ (I listened to Aoife McMahon’s beautiful narration) and agreeing wholeheartedly with Lorraine (Connell’s mum) ‘in my day you were either seeing someone or you weren’t’.
And this is when I felt old, I felt old and I felt sad. Sad for my children growing up in this era of open relationships and friends with benefits and fuck buddies and polyamory and plural relationships and dating apps and mating apps and hook-ups. And I felt old. Old and sick. Sick and tired. And slowly I began to feel repelled by Marianne (especially) and weary of monosyllabic Connell.
And then Marianne declares that she is a ‘Submissive’ that she enjoys being beaten. Like Connell I was shocked, shocked and angry, shocked and protective, protective of this imaginary woman in this imaginary book – so, fair play Sally; it’s obviously a very well written book.
And then Marianne spirals, darker and darker into a masochistic cesspit. And her brokenness and fragility become more apparent. And I feel shallow, I feel like a fair weather friend because I like her less. I like her less and less.
And I want happy endings (especially to romances, and this is a romance!) I really want Connell’s ‘goodness’ to cure her of her ‘submissiveness’ her ‘masochism’. I want him to lift her up. Not for her to drag him down.
And finally, finally after years of will he, won’t he, will she, won’t she; finally they fuck! And I think great – cos, to be fair Rooney you’ve written a great book, but these two are seriously outstaying their welcome – and Marianne says ‘hit me’.
And I think – oh fuck off! Fuck off Marianne! You are just too unlovable for me. And I felt old, I felt old and I felt sad. Sad for my children growing up in this era of S&M, of cable ties and choking, of 50 shades and submission and dominance. Sad for these ‘Millennials’ with their fucking smartphones and their ‘social media’ and their streaming and their nasty, rough, porny, squalid sex lives.
So finally he is accepted in New York – and he doesn’t tell Marianne he was applying, but he does tell Sadie. And Marianne is all ‘do you love her?’ And now I’m screaming – NO! Have we not fucking established that he loves you Marianne? I mean how much fucking reassurance do you need? And as a submissive do you have any rights? Seriously if you need men to hit you to get off, DO YOU HAVE ANY RIGHTS? Have you not capitulated? Have you not submitted, succumbed, surrendered?
And way way back, when Marianne first told Connell she was A Submissive he asked if she had wanted him to hit her. And she said, No. No because ‘I am myself when I am with you’. And later when Rooney describes Marianne’s feelings during sex with the bastards; the domineering misogynist wife beaters (call it what it is, don’t dress it up) it’s an ugly unpleasant feeling, compared to the fun sexy times with Connell. So why would she want Connell to hit her.
Run Connell! Run to New York! Walk the walk, talk the talk, run to New York.
Rooney has written a great book.
I fucking hated it.